image of a pottery class

Why Pottery Class Is the Perfect Place to Learn Relationship Lessons

Anything can become a life lesson if you’re paying attention. My mind is always connecting the dots. Sometimes, it happens in real time when I’m hit by a seemingly random epiphany in the middle of a task. Other times, the lessons come to me later when I’m thinking over the experience.

It’s no wonder that I connect the dots between everything and relationships when you consider I used to be a mental health therapist and my primary writing has been around love, dating, and relationships. I find human behavior fascinating, and I’ve found relationships to be a particularly interesting subject. This is how I found myself in a pottery wheel class learning both pottery techniques and relationship lessons.

The attraction to pottery for me has been yet another body-mind connection. I seem to be fully in tune with the present moment when I’m focused on the wheel and whatever I’m making. That doesn’t mean my busy brain stops turning, but it does seem to focus more on the details of what I’m doing rather than worrying about the future or ruminating on the past.

Four Relationship Lessons I Learned in Pottery Class

1. Perfect Really Is the Enemy of Good

The first lesson I stumbled upon didn’t happen in pottery class but during my practice time at home on the wheel I bought on impulse. I knew what to do, but for some reason, I kept over-thinking it. I ruined one and then two different bowls and nearly gave up in frustration. Both times, I had overworked the clay — trying for an impossible standard of perfection.

I realized that perfect really is the enemy of good — in pottery, life, and relationships. How many of us are expecting the people we partner with to be perfect and for the relationships to be perfectly easy?

We’re so busy chasing what we think the relationship should look like that we forget to allow it to be — and to become — what it is. We’re looking for perfect and sometimes overlook the good.

When we let each other down, we often nurse our disappointment rather than talking about how we feel and how we can make repairs to the relationship. We let small hurts poke holes in good relationships — issues that could potentially be solved if we weren’t so focused on ourselves and our ideas of perfection that we forget to see and love each other.

When I returned to the wheel for the third time, I got it right because I wasn’t trying to make it perfect. I just put my heart into it and let it be good instead. It might not have been the best work I’ve ever made, but it was infinitely better than the pieces I ruined because I was shooting for perfection.

2. Patience is Important

I’m new to pottery but not relationships. Yet, I have already decided I might be more naturally adept at one than the other. My mugs and bowls are coming out just fine. My relationships … well, they haven’t lasted.

I’m not taking full responsibility for that. After all, it takes two. But I do know that I’ve made mistakes along the way, and I’m learning from them.

In pottery and relationships, patience is important. We can’t rush intimacy or connection. Some things have to naturally develop, and we have to be patient with the process.

We can’t cement the future by making promises, and we can’t avoid heartbreak by refusing to make them either.

My hands shape the clay. Too much pressure will collapse the piece. Too little effort and it fails to develop. It takes a certain amount of balance and a lot of patience with the process. It requires careful attention to detail, and you can’t just skip ahead and gloss over the different steps without ruining the final product. Relationships work the same.

3. Presence is Essential

Patience is important, and presence is essential. If I check out with clay on the wheel, I doubt it will come out the way I intended. Every part of me has to work together on what I’m doing. I have to lean in — literally. I have to think about what I’m doing, direct my hands to the task, make sure the wheel is turning at the right speed, and know where I want to end up.

In relationships, the same is true. If we check out, we can destroy whatever it is we’re building. We need to know what we want, pay attention to the other person as well as to how we’re feeling in the relationship, and make sure we’re moving at a speed that is comfortable for both of us. Being present isn’t easy when life is busy and stressful. But it matters.

Being present is the difference between nurturing a relationship and breaking one down with our negligence.

4. Both Nature and Nurture Impact the Experience

Pottery is a skill set that seems to come naturally to me — a person who has previously claimed no visual artistic talent. I don’t know why it comes so naturally, but I do know that I still need classes to nurture my skills. Even with a natural gift, I’m unlikely to do well without a basic understanding of the craft, which comes from teachers who have been doing this a hell of a lot longer than me.

In relationships, there are elements of both nature and nurture. Some people are naturally good at navigating relationships, but don’t think nurture doesn’t have a part of this, too. People who were raised with secure attachment find it easier to form secure relationships. People who were raised with anxious and avoidant attachment issues from their caregivers will often struggle to find and keep relationships.

There are elements of both nature and nurture that contribute to our relationships. Yet, even without the natural aptitude, we have the ability to nurture our skills through self-awareness, personal growth, and participating in the therapeutic process to resolve past issues.

In other words, we all have to work at our relationships even if we have a certain amount of innate skill. They won’t work if we don’t work at them. Even the most natural connection still needs a certain level of energy and effort.

Recommended read: Kintsukuroi: The Power of Falling in Love with Your Flaws

Pottery, Relationships, and Pretty Relevant Epiphanies

Of course, these epiphanies don’t just apply to relationships. They apply to life, too. Perfection isn’t more important than progress. Patience and presence are important skills to learn no matter what we’re doing. Elements of nature and nurture follow us throughout life, but we all need to make an effort to truly improve at anything.

I’ll be honest and say that I don’t know where I’m going with my pottery. I don’t know if I’m making it for myself only or if I’ll ever want to sell my creations. I don’t know if it’s a hobby that will last or something I’ll grow weary of in time. And I just focus on one piece at a time. I’m not worrying about the future right now.

In relationships, I have a similar sense of calm. I don’t know what’s going to happen or who I’ll meet in my lifetime. I don’t know if I’ll ever marry again or if or when I’ll end up in a serious relationship. And I don’t know if the next person I fall in love with will be the last one or just another lesson learned along the way. I just focus on creating joy and being present in my life every single day. I’m not worried about the future.

Relationships, pottery…there are lessons everywhere. They might seem like things I should have known already — and on some level, I did. I stay so busy that I don’t always sit with what I know and allow it to sink in. While my wheel was turning and my hands were shaping, my thoughts were turning at the same steady, measured pace. I had the chance to just sit with the thought without rushing off to the next task or chasing the next idea.

With my hands covered in wet clay, I thought about art and relationships, and how I am sometimes great at both and sometimes end up with a mess on my hands. I love that I’m trying even when it isn’t easy. I’d like to think I’m getting better.

I know that I’ll keep showing up ready for whatever is next. Whether that’s the next piece of clay to become a bowl or planter or the next relationship to become whatever it is meant to be, I hope I’ll take the same approach and allow it to become what it is rather than trying to force it to be something it’s not. I hope I can appreciate the process and keep learning from it.

Photo by Courtney Cook on Unsplash

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